Don’t Despair – Take Action

The response to Peter Cutler’s article about the bombings in Boston repeated in All You Need Is Love have sparked another very interesting set of comments from other OI members.

Thich Nhat Hanh Walking Mindfully with Monks and Nuns

Thich Nhat Hanh Walking Mindfully with Monks and Nuns in Vancouver, 2011 – Photo Jerome Freedman

In particular, Mitchell Ratner, posted an article on the website of the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center in Washington, D. C. His article, Despair Is the Worst Thing, appeared on April 18.

He also writes about the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (affectionately know as Thay by his followers). The article conveys Thay’s message of don’t despair – take action.

Mitchell points out three ways of taking action to deal with despair. Each way is accompanied by quotes from Thay which I have omitted.

First, we do what we can to reduce suffering, violence, and confusion in our own lives…
Second, we live mindfully with those around us: We stay calm and present, we speak lovingly, we listen compassionately. We create a zone of safety around us…
Third, and most challengingly, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests we “scale up” the practices we use with those around us. In the book, written shortly after 9/11, Thich Nhat Hanh is especially focused on the the community of nations.

To handle the first way, Thay reminds us that “Everything we are looking for we can find in the present moment, including the Pure Land, the Kingdom of God, and our Buddha nature.”

For the second way, Thay urges us to create safety for the people around us by listening deeply with sympathy and compassion and speaking lovingly. This will generate understanding and a create a safe environment for the people we love.

For the third way, Thay wants to scale up the work of community building to the scale of the United Nations.

Thay’s reaction to terrorism can be understood in this quote from Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism:

Whether or not the twenty-first century becomes a century of spirituality depends on our capacity of building community. Without a community, we will become victims of despair. We need each other. We need to congregate, to bring together our wisdom, our insight, and our compassion. The Earth is our true home, a home for all of us. We invite everyone to look deeply into our collective situation. We invite everyone to speak out to spread the message. If we fail in this task of Sangha building, then the suffering of the twenty-first century will be indescribable.

We can bring the spiritual dimension into our daily life, as well as our social, political, and economic life. This is our practice. Jesus had this intention. Buddha had this intention. All of our spiritual ancestors, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist had this intention. We can display the light of wisdom and come together in order to create hope and to prevent society and the younger generation from sinking in despair.

We can learn to speak out so that the voice of the Buddha, the voice of Jesus, the voice of Mohammed, and all our spiritual ancestors can be heard in this dangerous and pivotal moment in history. We offer this light so that the world will not sink into total darkness. Everyone has the seed of awakening and insight within her heart. Let us help each other touch these seeds in ourselves so that everyone will have the courage to speak out. We must ensure that the way we live our daily lives doesn’t create more terrorism in the world. Only a collective awakening can stop this course of self-destruction.

These teachings are very simple and very profound at the same time. Simple, because it is obvious that we must build a world community since we are all living of this small planet with limited resources.

Profound, because it requires that all people recognize this fact and come to the insight of interbeing – the fact that we are all interconnected in a profound manner.

Terrorism has the effect of increasing our fear and anxiety. If we don’t despair and take action, we can train ourselves to be mindful of our feelings. Then they will not have to power to overtake us and cause us to react unskillfully to terrorist acts.

Do these ways of dealing with terrorism ring a bell in your heart and mind? If so, how? If not, what are your thoughts about coping with despair?

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